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Have We Seen The Best Of Cam Newton?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton has awed and impressed over his 6 year NFL career, but have injuries slowed the 2015 MVP for good?

Cam Newton had a lousy 2016 as the Carolina Panthers stumbled to an agonizing 6-10 record, and the 2015 NFC champion and NFL MVP struggled. Since setting the league on fire with his shoes, his brash charisma, and his 2011 Rookie of the Year performance, he’s been a star on the rise. When Cam led his team to a 15-1 season — which set a franchise record for wins — and the team’s second Super Bowl appearance, he was the best he’d ever been during his exciting career.

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

That became painfully true the following year. Despite the stats and records, there was something about that Super Bowl 50 loss that seemed to linger long after the emotional exit of his now infamous post-game presser. All great quarterbacks have down years, but 2016 was an especially painful and embarrassing setback for a seasoned team leader. Will we ever see Superman play super-human again? 

On-field Performance

Cam’s 2016 was not just a down year, it was one of his worst as a starter period. There was plenty of blame to go around for the Panthers overall struggles from a year ago, but his passing game was noticeably deficient. He completed a career-low in passes with only a 52.9% mark, and those he did complete went for a career low as well at only 6.88 yards per toss. In his MVP season, Cam Newton maintained a 99.4 quarterback rating, while throwing for 35 touchdowns. Those both fell in 2016 to 75.8 and 19 respectively. 

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Another contributing issue to this lack of offensive prowess was the decrease in rushing performance across the board. During the 2015 season, Carolina was the second-best rushing team in the league, churning out 2,282 yards total. In 2016, that dropped to 1,814 which was only 10th overall. Cam’s running also dropped off in 2016, collecting career lows in attempts (90), total yards (359), first downs (28), and touchdowns (5). It was a nightmare that got worse when we learned Cam had been playing through shoulder pain that finally caught up with him late last year. 


Injuries Mount

The elephant in the room for Cam’s pending comeback in 2017 is the issue with his rotator cuff, and what that will mean for his already unorthodox and criticized throwing motion. In reality, we have no idea how long he suffered through last year’s injury. What we were able to surmise from injury reports is that after a Week 14 game against the San Diego Chargers, Cam hurt his throwing shoulder. What we did not know until his surgery on March 30th at the end of the season was that following that game an MRI had come back to show a partially torn rotator cuff.  


David Newton of ESPN wrote that it could take up to a year for Cam to fully recover the day after he emerged from the operating room. Cam has come under scrutiny in the past for his mechanics, and coaches have worked to improve his follow through. The injury could finally signal the fix coaches have hoped for, or it could spell the steady decline of a once great arm and quarterback. One thing is certain: ankle injuries and aging will force Cam to rely on his arm more and more, and that means health and mechanics will become even more paramount. 


Depth Chart Challenges

If things are going to get better, the Panthers will have to provide Cam some more quality targets. The loss of Ted Ginn Jr to rival New Orleans could be viewed with compounding concern. After spending his best years with Carolina and catching 14 touchdowns the last two seasons, the Panthers will look to young talent to fill the gap. That leaves the still improving Kelvin Benjamin, first year wide out Curtis Samuel, and the venerable Greg Olsen who will be entering his 10th year. After they finished 2016 as the 19th ranked unit in the league, 2017 will need to be an improvement. 

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

That will really all depend on young wide receivers like Samuel, who has been compared to Ginn in both size and speed. Samuel is fast, with his dashing around rookie minicamp percolating all sorts of visions for a speedy vertical receiving attack combined with their similarly fast rookie first round pick running back Christian McCaffrey. It could be just the jolt Cam needs to start throwing the ball again with some excitement and confidence, and jump start his recovery leading up to the regular season.

Prognosis

The news is not all bad for Cam and the rest of his offense after Ron Rivera stated in a press conference that while they were not working Cam out at an accelerated rate, he was “ahead of schedule” in his overall recovery. I would be willing to bet we will see Cam give 2017 all the effort and emotional determination he can possibly muster. There is no doubt in my mind that despite a critical question mark with his right shoulder, Cam will make commendable statistical improvements, and lead a redeeming season. Whether we ever see him return to 2015 form, however, is an unlikely scenario. 


Cam remains a franchise quarterback, and even a hampered Superman is better than most quarterbacks in the league, and even better than many who have won gone on to win Super Bowls. There is no saying that he can’t lead a quality Carolina team back there, and ultimately capture the franchise’s first Lombardi. However, I think we’ve seen the best Cam Newton has to offer, and I find it unlikely he’ll ever rise to his 2015 MVP season height again.  
 

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Kat Johansen.

SQuiz
Who did Cam Newton overcome in 2016 to become the NFL's all-time leader for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback?
Created 6/20/17
  1. Otto Graham
  2. Randall Cunningham
  3. Kordell Stewart
  4. Steve Smith

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